Frequently Asked Questions About Medical Care After Sexual Assault

If you have experienced a sexual assault, the following resources can accompany you to medical or legal appointments, talk with you about safety and reporting options, and help you connect with additional support resources:

  • Sexual Assault Survivor Services (SASS) (24/7, academic year) 413-597-3000
  • Director of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response: 413-597-4977 (M-F, 9am-5pm, year-round)
  • Off-campus: Elizabeth Freeman Center 866-401-2425 (24/7 year-round)

Q. Are there time frames that I should be aware of?

The first few days after an assault can be a confusing and difficult time, and you may not want or be ready to make decisions. This is normal and OK.

There are some time frames you should be aware of because the sooner you seek care, the greater your options will be.

Within 5 days (120 hours) of an assault:

  • Emergency contraception for pregnancy and preventative treatments for sexually transmitted infections (including HIV) are more effective.
  • Evidence collection is an option. You do not need to report to the police to have evidence collected but, if you do have evidence collected, you may have more options in the future.
  • Toxicology testing is available within the first 4 days (96 hours) after an assault if there are signs that drugs or alcohol may have facilitated the assault.

Anytime after 5 days or 120 hours of an assault:

It is best to visit your own primary healthcare provider or a health clinic for care.

Q: Can I use the medical services of the College Health Center?

A: Treatment for many medical issues and follow-up care is available at the Health Center. Students who wish to be seen at the Health Center for STI testing and treatment can make an appointment with the Nurse Practitioner or Physician Assistant. These appointments are given priority and are available Monday – Friday 9am – 4pm.

The Health Center also makes free pregnancy testing and emergency contraception available.

The Health Center is not equipped to perform forensic examinations or test for drugs.  For those services survivors should go to the hospital (see information below).

Q: Do I have to go to the hospital?

A: You are not required to seek medical attention. However, you may want immediate medical attention for medical issues that result from the assault.  Medical attention is separate from the evidence collection process, and you are entitled to medical attention whether or not you decide to have evidence collected or report to the police.

Evidence collection is also done at hospital emergency rooms. Even if you do not want to report the crime or consider prosecution now, documenting injuries and collecting physical evidence is important in case you change your mind. Forensic examinations, which are done at hospitals, can greatly aid in the success of a later investigation and possible prosecution.

Medical care and evidence collection are available to any survivor, regardless of their gender or the gender of the perpetrator(s).

More information about going to the hospital from surviverape.org, the Massachusetts Forensics for Survivors site.

Q: What hospital should I go to?

A: Any hospital emergency room in MA can provide medical care after an assault and complete a Sexual Assault Evidence Collection Kit (SAECK, sometimes called a “rape kit”).

Some hospitals participate in the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, or SANE Program. At a SANE hospital, services are provided by a nurse or doctor with specialized training in the medical and forensic/legal needs of sexual assault survivors.

The closest SANE site to Williams is Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton. Williams is committed to helping survivors access all available resources, and will provide transportation to Cooley Dickinson Hospital, and a staff member from Sexual Assault Survivor Services (SASS) to accompany you there.  SASS is available 24/7 during the academic year at 413-597-3000. Outside of the academic year, call Campus Safety and Security at 413-597-4444 and ask to be connected to the Dean on call.

Depending on which hospital you go to, you will also be offered the support of a medical advocate from the local rape crisis center. This advocate is there to explain any processes and next steps to you, talk to friends or family who may have accompanied you to the hospital, and serve as a confidential off-campus resource.

Q. What should I know before I go to the hospital?

A: If you want to have evidence collected, try not to bathe, shower, eat or drink, brush your teeth, or go to the bathroom. Obviously, these are all natural and often necessary things to do, so if you have to or already have, it is still possible to collect evidence.

If you are still wearing the clothes you had on when the assault occurred, do not change them. If you already have, put your clothes in a clean paper bag, such as a shopping bag, and bring them with you to the emergency room. Your clothes will become part of the evidence kit if you have one done, so you should also bring comfortable clothes to go home in.

Q. How do I have evidence collected? What is a “rape kit”?

Click here for information on evidence collection from surviverape.org, the Massachusetts Forensics for Survivors site.

Q: How much does medical care or evidence collection cost?

A: The cost of the evidence collection kit and care from a SANE nurse is free. However, there may be charges for other kinds of medical care, like preventative medications for STIs or for treatment of injuries you might have sustained.

Many of these services are also available free-of-charge from the Health Center, specifically HIV and STI prophylaxis, and emergency contraception.

If you have other medical costs arising from an assault which requires hospital treatment, you can use your health insurance to cover all or a portion of these costs. It is important to know, though, that if you are concerned about confidentiality, that billing your insurance will list the services you received (an explanation of benefits) for whomever pays for your insurance (for example, a parent or a spouse.)

However, it is also important to know that Williams and Massachusetts are both committed to helping survivors access any necessary care, regardless of cost, and with the maximum possible protection of confidentiality.

If you are considering going to the hospital and have concerns about cost, please contact the SASS advisors at 413-597-3000 or the Elizabeth Freeman Center (Williams’ local rape crisis center) at 866-401-2425 to talk about your options.

Q: Does medical care or having evidence collected obligate me to report to the police?

A: You can receive medical care and have an evidence collection kit done without reporting to the police. (If you are under 18, over 60, or have a disability, it’s important for you to know that the hospital is required to report your assault to the appropriate protective services agency.)

If you choose not to report to the police at the time that evidence is collected, you will be given an anonymous tracking number for your kit, and it will be stored by the State Crime Lab for 6 months. You can also have the storage time for your kit extended to prevent it from being discarded. (Click here for more information on next steps from surviverape.org, the Massachusetts Forensics for Survivors site.)

If you choose to report to the police at the time that evidence is collected, you are permitting an investigation of the assault by the police department in the city or town where the assault took place.

(Click here for more information on reporting to police from surviverape.org, the Massachusetts Forensic for Survivors site.)

Q: I think a drug might have been used in my assault. Is testing part of the evidence collection process?

A: In Massachusetts, it is against the law to give a person a drug of any kind with the intention of having sexual contact with them. A blood and/or urine sample collected as part of the evidence collection kit is called the Toxicology Kit.

Substances can remain in the blood stream for up to 4 days (96 hours) after they were ingested. Blood and urine samples in the kit will be tested for the presence of substances such as drugs and alcohol.

There are some important things to know about toxicology testing:

  • Many substances leave the body more quickly than 96 hours, so a negative toxicology result does not mean that a survivor was not drugged. It means that a particular chemical was not present at the time the sample was collected.
  • Toxicology testing is not specific to particular substances. Results will indicate the presence of prescription medications, over-the-counter medications, alcohol, and recreational drugs.

Click here for more information on toxicology from surviverape.org, the Massachusetts Forensics for Survivors site.)